Monday, May 09, 2005

Bias in Ohio

The Associated Press has launched an unusually in-depth look at the death penalty in Ohio. Reporters analyzed 1,936 capital murder indictments from 1981 to 2002. A three-part series on their findings was published this past weekend. Here's a summary of what they found:

Study finds Ohio's death penalty unfair

Associated Press May 05, 2005

Lawmakers writing a new capital punishment law 2 decades ago wanted a fair system for prosecuting the worst of the worst: killers whose crimes were so terrible there would be no question they deserved to die.

That didn't happen.

Ohio's death penalty has been inconsistently applied since it was enacted in 1981, according to a 1st-ever analysis by The Associated Press. Race, the extensive use of plea bargains and even where a crime has been committed all play a role in who is sentenced to death.

In its research, the AP analyzed 1,936 indictments reported to the Ohio Supreme Court by counties with capital cases from October 1981 through 2002.

Among the findings:

-Offenders facing a death penalty charge for killing a white person were twice as likely to go to death row than if they had killed a black victim. Death sentences were handed down in 18 % of cases where the victims were white, compared with 8.5 % of cases where victims were black.

-Nearly 1/2 of the 1,936 capital punishment cases ended with a plea bargain. That includes 131 cases in which the crime involved two or more victims. 25 people had killed at least 3 victims.

-In Cuyahoga County, a Democratic stronghold, just 8 percent of offenders charged with a capital crime received a death sentence. In conservative Hamilton County, 43 % of capital offenders ended up on death row.

State Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, who co-sponsored the death penalty law in 1981 when he was a member of Ohio's Legislature, said the findings are disturbing.

Pfeifer, a Republican, is among many who have long called for a study of how the state's law is working. He said the analysis reaffirms early concerns that race would come into play.

"That has to be very disconcerting and alarming to all of us," he said.

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